David Attenborough's acclaimed documentary series, The Hunt, has now concluded. Viewers have been gripped by 'Nature red in tooth and claw' as predators and predated interact, with the survival of both individuals at stake.
However, as the conclusion made clear, the hunt for many is nearing its end. The inexorable rise in the human population, with our numbers doubling in the last fifty years alone, is so encroaching on once pristine habitats as to drive many species close to extinction. Animals lose the ecosystems on which they depend through forest clearing or climate change. Wide ranging predators find open spaces shrinking. Others may be hunted or caught in snares laid for other animals. When predators attack livestock, they suffer the consequences.
The extinction of predators that occurred in Europe is now occurring globally. The consistency was striking. From blue whales in the Pacific and polar bears in the Arctic, to tigers in India and cheetahs, lions and hunting dogs in Africa, the picture was sadly similar.
Where predators survive, they are in pockets, protected by guards and fences and intensively managed to preserve remaining individuals and prevent inbreeding. The commitment of the conservationists was remarkable and admirable. But the effort is limited and late in the day. Rewilding, reintroducing species to areas, brings some hope. However, it will require much human tolerance.
Moreover, development continues, even in already developed countries. Ever more light and noise, together with increases in road and rail networks, disrupt hunting, mating and migration. Nature is composed of complex ecosystems. Species have evolved to depend on the behaviours of other species, whether that be migration or breeding patterns. The diminution of one species through pollution, pesticides, climate change, industrialized agriculture, drainage and deforestation, affects those species that prey upon them.
It is unsurprising that naturalists such as David Attenborough, Jane Goodall and Chris Packham are concerned about population. What has not been so obvious to others is that human growth is not a threat just to other species, but to ourselves. Implementing the agreement to 'decarbonize' the world economy will not be made easier by the projected increase from today's seven billion people to 11 billion by 2100, even as billions seek to improve desperately low living standards. Wars in the Middle East and Africa, resulting in mass today's migration, is not unrelated to high population growth in regions with limited water supplies and unreliable rainfalls.
There is an alternative. Where countries educate and empower women, ensure reliable access to a range of family planning methods and promote the benefits of smaller families, birth rates fall quickly to western levels. Yet, too often, population remains the 'elephant in the room' at international discussions, from the sustainable development goals to the climate change talks. If we want our grandchildren to be able to enjoy the sight of wild elephants, and many other iconic species, this will have to change.